The Week Ahead: Palestinian paper loses Arab lifeline

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The Independent Online
IT LOOKS like curtains for the moderate nationalist Palestinian newspaper al-Fajr which, barring a last-minute reprieve, closes on Friday, the second Palestinian paper to fold in the past year. The paper, published in east Jerusalem, no longer receives money from the Palestine Liberation Organisation and the Gulf Arab states. The erstwhile benefactors have withdrawn their support to signal their displeasure with the paper's position of sympathy taken towards the Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, during the Gulf war.

There is a cruel irony in that al-Fajr, which was allowed to run - albeit on a leash - by the Israelis, has had the financial rug pulled from beneath it by its Arab brethren.

One of the last pieces of news the paper may be likely to report is the visit to the Middle East this week by the Foreign Office Minister of State Douglas Hogg. Mr Hogg is in Jordan today, Jerusalem tomorrow and the occupied territories until Thursday, talking to Palestinians and Israelis and trying to inject some life into the stalled peace talks.

President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt is expected to announce his candidature for re-election on Wednesday. The People's Assembly is to nominate a single presidential candidate who will be put to a referendum in October. All but 13 of the 454 members of the lower house of parliament have pledged support for Mr Mubarak and, with his ruling National Democratic Party holding 402 seats, his victory seems assured.

However, the absence of any opposition candidate, and Mr Mubarak's failure to designate a successor, has caused some isolated voices to be raised in protest. The veteran non-party lawyer Abd el-Halime Ramadan says Mr Mubarak's supporters have violated the constitution by not allowing an opposition candidate.

Foreign ministers of the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean) meet in Singapore on Friday until next week and are expected to confirm their support for a continued US military presence in the region, despite the end of the Cold War and the withdrawal of US forces from the Philippines last year. They will also be pondering the region's next move after the UN Transitional Authority pulls out of Cambodia next month. Foreign ministers from the EC, Canada, Japan and the US are expected to put in an appearance.

A concert performance of Verdi's Requiem conducted by Riccardo Muti is to be held in Florence on Thursday in aid of the victims of the car bomb which exploded outside the Uffizi Gallery in May killing five people including the caretaker. Also in pursuit of harmony, Italy's unions and employers sign an agreement on Thursday on the framework for industrial relations for the next 10 years. The deal lays down rules for bargaining procedures and labour mobility and covers benefits, unemployment and pensions.

Bangladesh, on the other hand, is likely to be in the grip of a general strike today and tomorrow, its third this year. The unions there want pay rises and an end to the government's programme of privatisation.

Signalling the onset of Europe's holiday season, an attempt will be made on Sunday to set a new record for the world's longest party, along 90 miles of the Mosel river in Germany. Cars will be banned from all the towns and villages along the route. The occasion is not, as you might think, a wine celebration but is part of a noodle festival.

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